The city could soon be home to North Carolina's largest solar energy plant, energy officials announced this week.
The $20 million plant would run on sunlight and connect to Progress Energy's power grid, helping provide power all over the region, said Mike Hughes, a spokesman for the company.
A solar energy field will hold about 20 acres of 6- to 8-foot-long, ground-mounted solar panels that rotate to follow the sun's path, said Bill Peele, the city planner.
The plant is not expected to change or interrupt regular power service.
Two tracts have been designated as possible sites for the solar -plant, but only one will be developed, Peele said.
One of the sites is 65 acres off McCall Road at U.S. 15-401 South. The other is 32 acres at the intersection of U.S. 74 Bypass and Stewartsville Road. The land will be leased, not purchased.
The Laurinburg Planning Board recommended to approve the sites for a conditional-use permit Tuesday.
The Laurinburg City Council is expected to vote on the matter Sept. 22. Construction could begin in late fall, and the plant could be in operation by the spring, said Brian Bednar with Birdseye Renewable Energy, one of the plant developers.
The plant is being developed through a partnership with MP2 Capital, a San Francisco-based renewable energy financing firm; groSolar, a national solar installer and distributor; and Birdseye, in Charlotte.
Progress Energy will contract with the companies to buy the electricity produced by the solar field, Hughes said.
The energy company has been looking for renewable energy resource partners since the state passed a bill in 2007 requiring power companies to begin using renewable energy.
Hughes said the price Progress Energy will pay for the energy will be higher, but it shouldn't affect consumer costs too much because of a state-regulated cap on energy bills.
Renewable energy prices are more expensive because of the costs of technology and the amount of land needed for the equipment, Hughes said.
Bednar said the solar panels are expected to make up the bulk of the plant's $20 million price tag.
Once the equipment is installed, however, it requires little maintenance. No trucks will go in and out of the property, and no employees are required to man the solar field.
Instead, the field will be surrounded by a fence and monitored by cameras, he said.
The project is not expected to bring jobs to the area, but Bednar believes it could be "the nucleus for something bigger."
Laurinburg was chosen because of its flat topography and generous sunlight, he said.